02/01/06 — UNC president visits Duplin

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UNC president visits Duplin

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 1, 2006 1:51 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Solutions to problems within the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service do not come from Raleigh, they come from people working in individual counties, said the new president of the University of North Carolina.

Erskine Bowles visited the Duplin County Extension Office on a tour of eastern North Carolina Tuesday. The site was the location for a meeting of the 31-member Cooperative Extension State Advisory Council.

The tour was designed to give Bowles a chance to talk with people in four counties about how the Extension Service and North Carolina State University can better serve the region's educational needs.

"Solutions don't come from the home office. Solutions don't come from headquarters. They come from the people here," Bowles said. "Tell me what we need to do to get more people educated. You've been in the field. You know what people need and what can help."

Bowles said education becomes more important every day. Americans cannot afford to sit back and assume the economy will advance if the nation's workers cannot keep pace with technology and the global marketplace.

"The velocity of change: If it doesn't' scare you it should," Bowles said. "I visited Beijing, and I saw 40 first-graders, all sitting in front of computers studying math -- in English."

More students in China take the Scholastic Aptitude Test than they do in America, he added. And Chinese students outperform their U.S. counterparts in several areas, especially mathematics. If the U.S. is to maintain its position as a world economic leader, it must find new ways to improve education, Bowles said.

Low-skill, moderate-income jobs are gone, he said. "And they are not coming back."

A huge problem is the lack of qualified teachers, Bowles said. North Carolina is in need of 9,000 teachers right now, he said.

"We have to get more people better-educated," he said. "Our first obligation is to K through 12. We need to turn out more teachers."

High school graduates need to be better-prepared to continue their education and find work, he said.

"We need more mentoring programs, and when they graduate, it needs to mean something."

The university system needs to focus on access and affordability, Bowles said, adding that he is committed to lowering tuition costs so that graduates don't enter the workforce saddled with large debts.

Bowles noted the changes in the Extension Service and the wide range of services the organization provides. He said that during his tour he found extension agents doing everything from helping farmers fill out tobacco forms to teaching a new mother how to breast-feed her newborn baby.

Accompanying Bowles on his trip were N.C. State University Chancellor James Oblinger and the deans from four schools at the university, Engineering, Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The group had made previous stops at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, the Center for Marine Science and Technology at Morehead City and the Cunningham Agriculture Research Station in Kinston.

Bowles commended Duplin leaders on the new Duplin Commons facility, which houses the extension offices.

"It's about time rural North Carolina got something nice," he said.